By Demion McTair. Updated 2:50 p.m., Sunday, September 20, 2020, Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4).
Discussion: The 2020 election campaign in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is off to a strong start.
Our public spaces (non-virtual and cyber) have been occupied more frequently by political discussions of one kind or another.
Some discussions are conducted in a very civilized manner but the use of one or more of the following fallacies can move any civilized partisan political discussion from zero to one hundred in a matter of seconds.
Before we get into the fallacies, let’s look at a few important definitions:
When you make a claim and you give a reason for that claim, that’s an argument.
The use of “as” or “because” in making a claim is important as it gives a reason for your claim.
Characteristics of Claims/Premises
Arguments can be inductive (specific to general) or deductive (general to specific).
In deductive argumentation, the strength of your argument is largely contingent upon the strength of your premise(s) (reason/s).
An argument can be sound/unsound or valid or invalid.
Good arguments are those which are sound (both valid and sound).
Simply put, the validity of an argument deals with the format, while soundness deals with both format and truth.
A valid argument is one where the premise(s) (the reasons given), are stated in such a way that the conclusion of the argument also has to be true. This does not mean that those premises are true. It only means they follow a correct format.
The argument follows a logical form/order, so it is valid but that does not mean the premises are actually true.
Soundness looks at whether the argument follows a structured format (valid) and whether the premises of the argument are actually true.
Though the above argument follows a correct format, it is not sound because the premise that you have to study in England to be prime minister is totally false.
Now that we have looked into what arguments are, let’s now look at the things that can weaken arguments and contribute to a breakdown of our political discourses.
What is a fallacy?
The following information on these fallacies is from two trusted academic websites – Purdue Owl, and the University of North Carolina Writing Center. The examples, which take a local twist, however, are generated by this writer.
1. Hasty Generalization: This is a conclusion based on insufficient or biased evidence. In other words, you are rushing to a conclusion before you have all the relevant facts (Purdue Owl). Example:
“Curtis King’s maiden speech was long, so all his other speeches will be long”.
Using only one instance and without interrogating the reasons for a long maiden speech (amount of time allowed for the speech, the context etc), an uncritical inference is being drawn about future speeches of Mr. King.
2. Begging the Claim: The conclusion that the writer should prove is validated within the claim (Purdue Owl). Example:
The ugly vegetable market in Kingstown should be broken down.
“We need to vote for Dr. Friday”
“We need to vote for Dr. Gonsalves”
This begs the question as to the valid reasons why the market should really be broken down, or why one should vote for one leader as opposed to the other. If those reasons are not given, name calling usually starts and the argument either dies or gets personal.
3. Ad hominem: This is an attack on the character of a person rather than his or her opinions or arguments (Purdue Owl). Example:
When ‘Nature’ speaks, he sounds like a pig squealing, or
Mineva is “childless”.
Neither of those two personal attacks on those two candidate hopefuls have anything whatsoever to do with their plans, policies or initiatives.
When Ad hominems are used against one side, the other side simply retaliates hitting below the waist. Before you know it, the entire discussion digresses into a rhetorical abyss. No one wins.
4. Tu Quoque: In a tu quoque argument, the arguer points out that the opponent has actually done the thing he or she is arguing against, and so the opponent’s argument shouldn’t be listened to (University of North Carolina Writing Center). Example:
Let’s say in the future another politician stones a church gathering and is reprimanded by one who did so before. The one who stoned the church gathering will likely tell the one who stoned it before that they have no moral authority to speak on the matter because they did it too.
Soon enough the arguments may even turn into a loud raucous with everyone calling one another a hypocrite.
5. Appeal to Authority: Often we add strength to our arguments by referring to respected sources or authorities and explaining their positions on the issues we’re discussing. If, however, we try to get readers to agree with us simply by impressing them with a famous name or by appealing to a supposed authority who really isn’t much of an expert, we commit the fallacy of appeal to authority (University of North Carolina Writing Center). Example:
A great economist (usually a specific name will be included) says the ULP killed bananas, so the ULP killed bananas.
In the absence of statistics, second opinions and other sources of information on such a broad and complex issue at the decline of the banana industry, the word of no one person should ever be taken as gospel.
Usually, whenever there is appeal to authority on the one hand, the other debaters employ the same tactic, only creating a pointless debate premised mainly on assumptions and emotions.
6. Ad populum/Bandwagon Appeal: This is an appeal that presents what most people, or a group of people think, in order to persuade one to think the same way. Getting on the bandwagon is one such instance of an ad populum appeal (Purdue Owl).
“If you really love progress you won’t vote for the NDP”, or
“If you really love progress you won’t vote for the ULP”
The truth is, there are many Vincentians who see progress as many different things. To them, voting for either the NDP or the ULP will bring progress.
7. Red Herring: This is a diversionary tactic that avoids the key issues, often by avoiding opposing arguments rather than addressing them. Example:
“Selling passports is not the best move, but where will we get additional monies to ramp up the economy?”
In the example above, the arguer tries to shift the focus from the issue of selling passports by bringing in the element of meeting financial needs. With Red Herrings, an argument can start at issue A and end up at issue Z and no one knows how it got there, while issue A still remains inadequately addressed.
8. Moral Equivalence: This fallacy compares minor misdeeds with major atrocities, suggesting that both are equally immoral (Purdue Owl). Example:
“Luta filming a video in a cemetery was as bad as someone stoning a church gathering”
In the above example, you can see that the equivalence being made is totally unmatched and false. When Moral Equivalence is used, everyone then tries to create examples to give, dragging the debate down to nothingness.
9. False Dichotomy: In false dichotomy, the arguer sets up the situation so it looks like there are only two choices. The arguer then eliminates one of the choices, so it seems that we are left with only one option: the one the arguer wanted us to pick in the first place. But often there are really many different options, not just two—and if we thought about them all, we might not be so quick to pick the one the arguer recommends (North Carolina University Writing Center). Example:
“Voting party X is the only way to secure a better future. If you don’t vote party X, the future is doomed“.
So many relevant factors are ignored in false dichotomies.
10. Post hoc ergo propter hoc: This is a conclusion that assumes that if ‘A’ occurred after ‘B’ then ‘B’ must have caused ‘A.’ Example:
“Disasters always happen when Ralph is out of the country, if another disaster happens when he is out of the country, he/his absence must be causing the disasters”
Whenever Post hoc ergo propter hoc is used by one arguer, the other arguer simply tries to find an equally ridiculous example to throw back, causing a senseless debate to happen.
Those are just some fallacies to avoid during this election.